What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City Book Review

As a Michigander, I read books about and involving my state whatever chance I get. Recently, I came across What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha – a pediatrician at the Hurley Medical Center in Flint, and it opened my eyes up to a load of things. 2015 was the year of the Flint Water Crisis, and it was Hanna-Attisha, who broke the news of the dangerous lead levels in the water and how children were getting exposed to it. The book itself specifically details how she heard about the dangerous lead levels, her research, and despite the backlash from government officials, how she did not back down in order to help the children affected. I remember hearing about it at the time, yet this book allowed me to understand not only the roots of the disaster, but also why the author did it in the first place.

Even though the beginning was filled with statistics that some might find confusing, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha uses everyday language to explain the entire situation. This allows for readers like me to get riled up (in a good way) as well as to learn more about it. It certainly angered me to know that General Motors (GM) noticed a high amount of chloride in the water in 2014 and switched to using Lake Huron as a source to prevent corrosion of the metal engine parts (p. 98-99). You would think that some GM officials would let other businesses and facilities know about this, but no, this did not happen. In addition, I learned of the various causes of the crisis itself, and spoilers: it’s more than the lead. Other factors were the structural racism, officials looking the other way, and the fact that Flint was under an emergency manager law. That means the mayor was stripped of real power. In 2011, Governor Rick Snyder appointed an emergency manager (EM) since the city was near bankruptcy; however, they only answered to him. Hanna-Attisha declares that by 2013, “half of all African-American citizens in Michigan were living under an EM, compared with 2 percent of white residents” (p. 28). If lead was found in the waters in a city like Seattle or Des Moines, I can guarantee you that the officials would have fixed the problem pretty quickly. 

In addition, Dr. Hanna-Attisha weaves in her own story to explain why she was determined to get the news of the lead levels in the Flint water out there. I thought that these parts were well done as they show readers the real person behind the stand holding a baby bottle full of lead-contaminated water and how her beliefs in helping others developed. Her family escaped Saddam Hussein-dominated Iraq. They wanted to return, but something always prevented them like the increasing atrocities of the regime. Moreover, she was always passionate about helping others like being in the environmental club in high school. And while the author retained the need to help others, the knowledge of government officials not looking out for the greater good made her see the reality, even at a young age. These stories are usually found in chapters separate from the ones, where she is talking about gathering the research. If I had a complaint, it would be that the times in which she talks about her family bog down the pacing a little, but I would like to think that the sum is greater than its parts.

Overall, What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha is a highly inspirational and realistic account of the Flint Water Crisis. Using layman language permitted Dr. Hanna-Attisha to relay information about the catastrophe to readers effectively. Interweaving her own story is a mostly effective choice since it permits the readers to see the real person and why she was devoted to aiding others. I would definitely recommend this book to anybody interested in learning about the Flint Water Crisis. And not only that, I would make it a requirement for any Michigan-based reader to take a look at it because it will always be a part of Michigan history.

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Published by emilyblakowski

I work at two public libraries in southeast Michigan, and I facilitate a book club for one of them. I also hold a Bachelor's degree in History and Theatre from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI; a Master's degree in Library and Information Science from Wayne State University in Detroit, MI; and a Graduate Certificate in Archival Administration also from Wayne. In my downtime, I love hanging out with friends, listening to music (like classic rock and K-pop), and watching shows like "Monty Python's Flying Circus"!

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